It's a phrase that not only describes Brad Penny, but almost all the pitchers on the free agent market this winter. There are no "sure things" on the market, and any pitcher that Brewers GM Doug Melvin decides to sign will come with a big risk in one way or another for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Penny had a tumultuous 2009. It started off with him signing in Boston over the winter for a one-year, $5 million contract. After a subpar first few months, he asked for his release from the Red Sox and received it.
He then signed with the San Francisco Giants for the stretch run and pitched better for them than at any point of his career. He went 4-1 in six starts and finished with a 2.59 ERA in 41.67 innings pitched.
Prior to the season, Penny was in a situation similar to what Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, and Mark Mulder are facing right now: He needed to show he could stay healthy for an entire year in hopes of earning a big pay day at the end of the year. He did just that by making 30 starts and pitching a total of 173.3 innings.
That production will likely yield a multi-year contract between $7 and $10 million a year for Penny. General managers around the league should be very deliberate in their courtship of him before handing out that type of deal.
On closer inspection of his career, one will find that Penny has only pitched more than 200 innings twice. Despite a very good fastball, he has never struck out more than 154 batters in one season and that came back in his second season in the majors in 2001. His strikeout rate actually dropped after being acquired by the Giants to only 4.3 strikeouts every nine innings.
Penny will likely choose to stay in the National League since he was barely able to maintain a sub-six ERA in the American League with Boston. It is doubtful, however, that he'll be able to maintain the success he had with the Giants.
The Brewers are getting much younger with the departure of several veterans. Penny would serve as a good veteran presence in the starting rotation. He would likely be slotted in as a No. 2 pitcher for the team.
For a pitcher to have that spot in a rotation, his price tag wouldn't be completely outrageous, especially for a team paying $12 million in 2010 to have Jeff Suppan serve as a No. 5 starter. Doug Melvin can't afford another high-priced bomb like Suppan. He must sign as much of a sure thing that he can find, even if it turns out to be an unpopular choice.
A possible signing of Penny will come down to Melvin's willingness to take a chance on an oft-injured arm. He could get the same thing by signing Ben Sheets at half the cost of what Penny will demand. The upside of Penny would come from having him signed for a couple years, but that could turn into an anchor if he misses significant time with injuries.
The goal of every major league starter is to stay healthy and make as many starts as possible in a given year. Penny was able to do that in 2009 and will be rewarded accordingly over the next few months. Unfortunately for the Brewers, he's not a good fit for their 2010 rotation.
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